This is a guest post from one of our new Business Reference librarians Yvonne Dooley. She will be joining the Inside Adams blog team so be on the look-out for her posts!
Every year when February rolls around, I always look forward to browsing and selecting Valentine’s Day cards for family and friends. I fondly recall spending a serious amount of time and effort determining which card to send to each one of my school classmates. This year I began to wonder how such a simple loving gesture turned into the commercialized “beast” it is today. With that thought in mind, I turned to the collections here at the Library of Congress to find out.
According to Ernest Dudley Chase in the 1926 book The Romance of Greeting Cards, sixteenth century England had a somewhat peculiar custom on the morning of February 14th. He writes, “…it was the practice on valentine’s morning to go out of doors and challenge the first person of the opposite sex who came along; the person thus challenged was required to make a present to the challenger. ‘Good morrow, ‘tis St. Valentine’s Day’ were the only words spoken…” (p. 59). He goes on to describe how handcrafted valentine messages were created and sent as early as 1667, but never offered commercially for sale. It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that England began producing factory made Valentine’s Day cards.
However, celebration of this Old World saint’s day was “often forgotten” and “easily neglected” by those who happened to make it across the pond (Schmidt, p. 39). That all changed in the 1840s when the holiday was “rejuvenated” and transformed into something “not-to-be missed” as explained in Leigh Eric Schmidt’s book, Consumer Rites: The Buying & Selling of American Holidays (1995). And what was the catalyst to this transformation? Valentine’s Day cards, of course, along with the possibility of other merchants jumping on the bandwagon such as jewelers, florists, and confectioners. Schmidt writes, “…commerce rather than ethnicity would be the creative and guiding hand in the holiday’s American rebirth” (p. 47).
So, there you have it – it seems Valentine’s Day has always been commercialized here in the U.S.